There’s been a lot of talk about vision lately: the vision of our country over the weekend, protecting your vision on Monday. This post is not political, or celestial, but rather, it is about a person’s legacy.
These past few months, I’ve been transcribing my mother’s autobiography. For years, I encouraged, cajoled, nagged her to record the stories about her childhood on the bayou; her years as a nursing student in New Orleans; her marriage and the family that grew from it. When she finally completed the handwritten account, it was bittersweet: she had to amend the ending because her husband—my father–had died.
She told her story, her way, and called it My Life. Not the most original title, but she doesn’t need to hook readers with a catchy title. The only people who will read this account will be family and friends. When I began transcribing her handwritten notes, I took a far different attitude than I do with my own writing or my editing work. My mother is not a professional writer, this is not a client-editor relationship, and we could put together a nice little book that’s good enough for family and friends.
It is difficult to change habits. I tried to turn off my editor’s brain. I tried to turned off my daughter’s emotions. My job, I told myself, was to read for typos and grammatical errors. It was her story, told her way. Who was I to question her vision?
That didn’t last long.
It didn’t last long because, as I transcribed her account of her life, I wasn’t an editor or a daughter or a proofreader. With every page, I became a reader.
I began to make notes: How much did this steak meal cost in 1950? Who tended this big family garden? What was your favorite class? Who were your friends? How did that nickname come about? I asked questions because I wanted to know more. The more I read, the more I wanted to know.
I printed the first draft, loaded with questions, and went down to visit my mother. We went over the manuscript—which is what it had become—and while my sister and I went about the tasks of clearing my father’s closet and packing his clothes, my mother did her “homework” on her story. I could write here about what it felt like to be packing up one life and recording another, but that isn’t the topic of this post. That’s another topic for another time. And the book isn’t about me, anyway.
Except it is, because I’m blogging about it, and it’s become part of my life experience. Just like the political rallies and the eclipse—every event that you participate in becomes part of your personal legacy.
I devote a shelf in my office to some of the books I have edited. I keep them handy because, when I give talks about editing, I like to pull out a few to bring along as show-and-tell. They are not my stories, but they are part of my legacy, part of the vocation I’ve devoted myself to for 10 years.
And now I can add My Life to that shelf.
With the help of my friend Jean Davis, we created a document on CreateSpace. My husband took an old, cracked marriage photo and spruced it up for the back cover. It’s not hard to put together a book with a team of experienced, skilled people working toward a common goal: pleasing Mom.
The book arrived in a box yesterday, all 60 copies of the first run. They came to my home because I’m the account holder. I offered to send copies to my siblings and relatives, to save her the trouble of packing and driving to the post office, but Mom said no. She wants to distribute them. I understand that. It’s her story. Let her present them to her family and friends herself.
The box goes to Mom today, and I confess that I am nervous in the same why I get nervous when I submit to a magazine. She hasn’t seen the cover I chose, or the back cover copy I selected, or how we used photos or graphics. Will she approve of the images? Will she think the title font is too big? Will she find a typo the three of us missed? Will she wish she’d added more here or less there?
Will the book match her vision of it? I guess we’ll see.
Did you watch the eclipse and protect your eyes? Do you have a vision of your personal legacy?